When a coach might lead the conversation

The ICF core competencies and markers for ACC, PCC and MCC performance evaluations require of the coach to “partner with the client”. What is meant here is that the coach not only regards the client as the expert on their life and topic but also involves them into the decisions on how the coaching process is run. Examples of partnering are:

  • “How would you like to start the session – would you like to recap or would you like to jump into a new topic right away?”
  • “Have we explored this topic enough so that you can say what has emerged for you?”
  • “I am thinking that it might be a good idea to look for instances in the past where you were already a little bit successful in doing what you want to develop now — would that work for you?”
  • “How would you like me to accompany you as your coach today?”

This week, I mentored two lovely coaches who brought coaching sessions into the mentoring in which they felt they could not really partner with the client. When I listened to the recording, my first impulse was to agree: “Boy, that was difficult!” The clients in both cases were digressing from the topic a lot, they were not answering the coach’s questions or they were talking about how other people needed to change for a long time. The coaches in both cases understandably took the conversation back into their own hands and tried valiantly to give the conversation some structure and forward movement.

In our mentoring sessions, we then attempted to find ways of handling these situations in a partnering way, just to explore if this is possible. Here’s what we came up with:

When the client seems to be digressing a lot:

  • “I am noticing that we started talking about topic A with goal B, now we seem to be speaking about C — I am curious, what is the relationship between them?”
  • “Can I stop you for a moment — I was wondering if we are still on track with the session?”
  • “Hm… I hear you are speaking a lot about C now — is this where you would like to go next or should we come back to A?”
  • “What would you like me to do as your coach when I am noticing a topic shift or something that seems to me like a digression from the goal?”

When the client is not answering the coach’s questions:

  • “I am noticing that you seem to be in your train of thought at the moment — how would you like me to respond as your coach?”
  • “I noticed a couple of times that I asked a question and you went elsewhere in the conversation. Of course, this is completely fine with me. I just wanted to enquire how you would like me to respond most helpfully?”

When the client is talking a lot about other people:

  • “The last … minutes we spent talking about how other people might change so that your life becomes easier. Is that what you would like to spend some more time on or would you like me to ask you some questions about how you could cope with the situation (what you might do to change the situation)?
  • “I agree, it would be so much easier if (other people / the situation) changed. In this session, would you like to spend time on how to change the situation / influence other people or would you like to talk about how you can cope better?”

Isn’t it wonderful what happens if a few smart people sit together to figure stuff out?

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